The Proteas completed a remarkable turnaround in the first Test against Australia, thrashing them by 177 runs in Perth on Monday.
What an incredible reversal of fortunes it was. At the end of day one, the Proteas were bowled out for 242 and Australia were on 105-0. But, just like the Perth clash in 2012, the Proteas rallied emphatically, to maintain an unbeaten run at the Waca stretching back to 2005.
It took centuries from Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers back then to put them in control in the second innings. The two centurions this time were Dean Elgar and JP Duminy to offer the hosts 539 for victory.
The difference between that clash and this one is that they had to do it with 10 men, after Dale Steyn was forced off on day two with a broken shoulder. That only seemed to strengthen the unity of the side, a growing trait of this Faf du Plessis-led unit.
Questions were raised in the Australian commentary box as to whether the Proteas should have continued to bat for as long as they did on day four, with Kevin Pietersen saying ‘they’d missed a trick’. But South Africa got it spot on, largely thanks to the exploits of Kagiso Rabada, who continues to show what a superstar he is.
Temba Bavuma’s run-out to see off David Warner will be replayed time and time again and will go down as one of the game’s great run-outs. That was what spurred on the collapse, but it was Rabada who took three wickets after that in the last two sessions on day four.
A desperate task awaited the Aussies on day five, going into it on 169-4, and it got even more desperate when Rabada had his fourth, trapping Mitchell Marsh lbw for 26. To the naked eye, the ball looked like it was sliding down leg, but Faf du Plessis’ review was successful.
Rabada continued to steam in, and if his raw pace and in-swingers weren’t enough, then he was finding the widening cracks on the pitch too. All the batsmen could do was leave them and hope they wouldn’t clatter into the stumps. To such an extent did Rabada step up without Steyn in the attack, that it prompted former Australia wicketkeeper Ian Healy to say ‘he’s the best bowler I’ve seen since Wasim Akram’.
It was quite a statement, which was quickly backed up by another yorker from the 21-year-old that saw the end of Mitchell Starc, for Rabada’s fourth five-wicket haul in just his ninth Test.
That was moments before JP Duminy had Usman Khawaja for 97, which ultimately ended any slim hopes of a positive conclusion to the match for the hosts.
Du Plessis introduced the new ball 12 overs after it was due after the lunch break, and Vernon Philander got on the board with the first over, yet another lbw decision going the way of the tourists, sending Peter Siddle back for 13.
Then came a period of frustration for South Africa, as Josh Hazlewood hung around longer than expected. The partnership between him and the resilient Peter Nevill stretched to 65. With five minutes to go before tea however, Bavuma added another string to his brilliant all-round bow with a wicket, sending back Hazlewood for 29.
That extended the session for an extra half an hour, and while Australia did well to pass 350 in the fourth innings for just the ninth time in their history, Keshav Maharaj would deservedly finish off the job for his side with the wicket of Nathan Lyon. That brought an end to an excellent contest that required the whole team to rally together.
It was the first time since 1988 that Australia had lost their first home Test of the summer, when they went down to West Indies at the Gabba. They’ve still got two Tests to recover from this setback, with the second clash set to take place in Hobart from Saturday.
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